Add Tatiana Suarez to the growing list of fighters who believe Rose Namajunas defeats Carla Esparza in their upcoming rematch.
Seven years removed from their first fight, Namajunas and Esparza are expected to meet again at UFC 274 in May. The ‘Cookie Monster’ already holds a win over ‘Thug,’ a third-round rear-naked choke to become the inaugural strawweight champion at ‘The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale’.
Though Esparza had an advantage over Namajunas with her wrestling then, Suarez has seen enough improvement in the ground game of the champion that it should not be as much of a threat now. Speaking from her own experience with Esparza, who she dominated on the ground in their fight at UFC 228 over three years ago, Suarez recently told Helen Yee why she believes the former champion could come up short against Namajunas this time around.
“I think that Rose is going to win,” said Suarez. “I just think that maybe Rose has better grappling now than she did when they first went against each other. I did face Carla, and nothing against Carla, but I don’t feel like she has the strength. When I fought her, I didn’t feel like she was super strong or anything like that. I’ve never fought Rose, so I can’t really compare the two.
“But I saw her grappling exchanges with Zhang [Weili] and she seemed like she made improvements, and she actually beat her in the grappling exchanges,” continued Suarez. “That’s how she ended up winning, right? So I think she’s improved a little bit in that area and I don’t think that — Carla has the technique, but I don’t think she necessarily has the strength. It looks to me that Rose has packed on some muscle since The Ultimate Fighter days, and I’m sure Carla has too, but I just don’t see it. I think that Rose will probably [win]. It might look similar to the Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] fight.”
Suarez has not fought since defeating Nina Nunes at UFC 238, where she extended her record to 8-0 as a professional. However, the 31-year-old re-aggravated a neck injury during that fight and opted to omit surgery in favor of rehabilitation. She eventually received medical clearance to compete again and was scheduled to debut in the flyweight division against Roxanne Modafferi, but that was canceled after she was forced to withdraw over a knee injury.
Now eight months removed from surgery, Suarez has targeted a return during International Fight Week.
“I’m thinking summer,” said Suarez. “I’m hoping maybe July, I’m crossing [my fingers] for maybe International Fight Week. I would like that. I’m just trying to test my knee out. I’ve been doing a lot of grappling lately, which is crazy because I injured it grappling so I thought that would be the most mentally draining thing for me in terms of coming back and maybe being a little bit weary. But I’ve been grappling almost every single day, so I guess I’ve overcome that fear.
“I’m still a little bit reluctant and hesitant in certain situations, but I’m feeling really good. The next step is maybe to do some sparring and see how it holds up during sparring and then once I feel 100 percent confident, I’ll ask to book a fight and I’m hoping like July.”